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Blues Symphony

The blues is one of America’s greatest cultural inventions—and now, it provides the backbone for one of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Wynton Marsalis’s most innovative and colossal works. In the hands of the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of celebrated conductor Cristian Măcelaru, Blues Symphony (Marsalis’s second symphony) takes the 12-bar blues and explodes it into a lyrical, kaleidoscopic history of American music.
The symphony’s movements are each infused with different influences—a ragtime stomp here, a habanera rhythm there—and, collectively, they take listeners on a sonic journey through America’s revolutionary era, the early beginnings of jazz in New Orleans, and even a big city soundscape that serves as a nod to the Great Migration. This 2019 performance, recorded live in Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, builds upon the legacies of Scott Joplin, James P. Johnson, George Gershwin, and other American masters, demonstrating the genius and breadth of Marsalis’s imagination.

“The blues helps you remember back before the troubles on hand and in mind,” says Marsalis, “and they carry you on the wings of angels to a timeless higher ground.” With the exquisite palette provided by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Blues Symphony is a triumphant ode to the power of the blues and the scope of America’s musical heritage.

Blues Symphony

Album Info

Ensemble The Philadelphia Orchestra
Release Date May 21st, 2021
Recording Date December 12-14, 2019
Record Label Blue Engine Records
Catalogue Number BE0039
Formats Digital Download
Genre Classical Recordings
Digital Booklet Download (pdf, 125 KB)

Track Listing

Track Length Preview
Movement I: Born in Hope 7:29 Play
Movement II: Swimming in Sorrow 13:23 Play
Movement III: Reconstruction Rag 10:20 Play
Movement IV: Southwestern Shakedown 7:49 Play
Movement V: Big City Breaks 4:35 Play
Movement VI: Danzón y Mambo, Choro y Samba 11:51 Play
Movement VII: Dialog in Democracy 6:36 Play

Liner Notes

The Blues Symphony is a seven-movement work that gives a symphonic identity to the form and feeling of the blues. It utilizes regional and stylistic particulars of the idiom’s language and form to convey the basic point of view of the blues as music: “Life hands you hard times.”

When you cry, holler, and shout to release those hard times; when you tease, cajole, and play to diminish them; and when you dance and find a common community through groove, better times will be found. The more profound the pain, the deeper the groove.

This piece is intended to further the legacy of Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, James P. Johnson, Leonard Bernstein, John Lewis, Gunther Schuller, and others who were determined to add the innovations of jazz to the vocabulary of the symphonic orchestra. I believe there is an organic and real connection between all Western traditions regardless of instrumentation, and that the symphonic orchestra can and will swing, play the blues, feature melodic improvisation, and execute the more virtuosic aspects of jazz and American vernacular music with absolute authenticity.

— Wynton Marsalis, April 2021


All compositions by Wynton Marsalis (Skayne’s Music (ASCAP))

Movement I: Born in Hope
Movement II: Swimming in Sorrow
Movement III: Reconstruction Rag
Movement IV: Southwestern Shakedown
Movement V: Big City Breaks
Movement VI: Danzón y Mambo, Choro y Samba
Movement VII: Dialog in Democracy

Recorded on December 12-14, 2019 in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA.


The Philadelphia Orchestra, 2019-2020 Season
Conducted by Cristian Măcelaru

Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Music Director
Walter and Leonore Annenberg Chair

Stéphane Denève
Principal Guest Conductor

Gabriela Lena Frank

Erina Yashima
Assistant Conductor

Lina Gonzalez-Granados
Conducting Fellow

Frederick R. Haas
Artistic Advisor
Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ Experience

First Violins
David Kim, Concertmaster
Dr. Benjamin Rush Chair
Juliette Kang, First Associate Concertmaster
Joseph and Marie Field Chair
Ying Fu (*), Associate Concertmaster
Marc Rovetti, Assistant Concertmaster
Barbara Govatos
Robert E. Mortensen Chair
Jonathan Beiler
Hirono Oka
Richard Amoroso
Robert and Lynne Pollack Chair
Yayoi Numazawa
Jason DePue
Larry A. Grika Chair
Jennifer Haas
Miyo Curnow
Elina Kalendarova
Daniel Han
Julia Li
William Polk
Mei Ching Huang

Second Violins
Kimberly Fisher, Principal
Peter A. Benoliel Chair
Paul Roby, Associate Principal
Sandra and David Marshall Chair
Dara Morales, Assistant Principal
Anne M. Buxton Chair
Philip Kates
Mitchell and Hilarie Morgan Family Foundation Chair
Booker Rowe
Joseph Brodo Chair, given by Peter A. Benoliel
Davyd Booth
Paul Arnold
Lorraine and David Popowich Chair
Dmitri Levin
Boris Balter
Amy Oshiro-Morales
Yu-Ting Chen
Jeoung-Yin Kim
Christine Lim

Choong-Jin Chang, Principal
Ruth and A. Morris Williams Chair
Kirsten Johnson, Associate Principal
Kerri Ryan, Assistant Principal
Judy Geist
Renard Edwards
Anna Marie Ahn Petersen
Piasecki Family Chair
David Nicastro
Burchard Tang
Che-Hung Chen
Rachel Ku
Marvin Moon
Meng Wang

Hai-Ye Ni, Principal
Priscilla Lee, Associate Principal
Yumi Kendall, Assistant Principal
Wendy and Derek Pew Foundation Chair
Richard Harlow
Gloria dePasquale
Orton P. and Noël S. Jackson Chair
Kathryn Picht Read
Robert Cafaro
Volunteer Committees Chair
Ohad Bar-David
John Koen (*)
Derek Barnes
Mollie and Frank Slattery Chair
Alex Veltman

Harold Robinson, Principal
Carole and Emilio Gravagno Chair
Joseph Conyers, Acting Associate Principal
Tobey and Mark Dichter Chair
Nathaniel West, Acting Assistant Principal
John Hood
Michael Shahan
David Fay
Duane Rosengard
Robert Kesselman

Some members of the string sections voluntarily rotate seating on a periodic basis.

Jeffrey Khaner, Principal
Paul and Barbara Henkels Chair
Patrick Williams, Associate Principal
Rachelle and Ronald Kaiserman Chair
Olivia Staton
Erica Peel, Piccolo

Peter Smith, Acting Principal
Samuel S. Fels Chair
Jonathan Blumenfeld
Edwin Tuttle Chair
Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia, English Horn
Joanne T. Greenspun Chair

Ricardo Morales, Principal
Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Chair
Samuel Caviezel, Associate Principal
Sarah and Frank Coulson Chair
Socrates Villegas
Paul R. Demers, Bass Clarinet
Peter M. Joseph and Susan Rittenhouse Joseph Chair

Daniel Matsukawa, Principal
Richard M. Klein Chair
Mark Gigliotti, Co-Principal
Angela Anderson Smith
Holly Blake, Contrabassoon

Jennifer Montone, Principal
Gray Charitable Trust Chair
Jeffrey Lang, Associate Principal
Hannah L. and J. Welles Henderson Chair
Jeffry Kirschen
Ernesto Tovar Torres
Shelley Showers

David Bilger, Principal
Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest Chair
Jeffrey Curnow, Associate Principal
Gary and Ruthanne Schlarbaum Chair
Anthony Prisk
Robert W. Earley

Nitzan Haroz, Principal
Neubauer Family Foundation Chair
Matthew Vaughn, Co-Principal
Eric Carlson
Blair Bollinger, Bass Trombone
Drs. Bong and Mi Wha Lee Chair

Carol Jantsch, Principal
Lyn and George M. Ross Chair

Don S. Liuzzi, Principal
Dwight V. Dowley Chair
Angela Zator Nelson, Associate Principal

Christopher Deviney, Principal
Angela Zator Nelson

Piano and Celesta
Kiyoko Takeuti

Davyd Booth

Elizabeth Hainen, Principal
Patricia and John Imbesi Chair

Robert M. Grossman, Principal
Steven K. Glanzmann

Stage Personnel
James J. Sweeney, Jr., Manager
James P. Barnes
Dennis Moore, Jr.

(*) On leave

The Philadelphia Orchestra:
President and CEO: Matías Tarnopolsky
Executive Director: Ryan Fleur
Vice President, Communications: Ashley Berke
Vice President, Artistic Production: Tanya Derksen
Vice President, Artistic Planning: Jeremy Rothman
Director, Publications and Content Development: Darrin T. Britting
Director, Digital Content and Communications: Natalie Lewis

Jazz at Lincoln Center:
Executive Producer: Wynton Marsalis

Recording Engineer: Andrew Mellor
Mixing Engineer: Todd Whitelock at Amplified Art and Sound
Mastered by Mark Wilder at Battery Studios, NYC 2021

Label Head and A&R: Gabrielle Armand
Assistant Label Manager: Jake Cohen
Product Manager: Madeleine Cuddy
Marketing Manager: Nicole Morales
Product and Marketing Assistant: Benjamin Korman
Director of Public Relations and External Communications: Zooey T. Jones
Public Relations Manager: Madelyn Gardner
Legal: Daphnée Saget Woodley, Allison Job
Music Supervisor and Copyist: Jonathan Kelly
Music Administration: Kay Wolff, Christianna English
Cover Artwork: Paul Rogers
Art Direction: Brian Welesko
Design: Patricia Encarnacion

Leadership support for Blue Engine Records is provided in part by the Arnhold Family and Jay Pritzker Foundation.
Generous support is provided by Helen and Robert Appel, Diana and Joseph DiMenna, Leonard and Louise Riggio, and Lisa Schiff.
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